International Institute for Innovation in Governance

What makes long-term perspectives endure? Lessons from Dutch nature conservation

This paper reflects on the performance and endurance of long-term perspectives and their impact on strategies, institutional change and material effects. In the past decades, the long-term perspective of a national ecological network has been a key element of Dutch nature conservation policy. By focusing on the temporal, procedural and discursive dimensions of Dutch nature conservation, the analysis shows that long-term perspectives can function as powerful coordination tools, across government levels and due time. Conversely, their actual realization often proves vulnerable to the multiple dependencies built into governance processes, including competing claims about the future and related strategies. In the context of Dutch nature conservation policy, we witness a growing discrepancy between the long-term perspective on the one hand and strategies, institutional changes and material effects on the other. We subsequently examine the underlying conditions which enabled the long-term perspective of a national ecological network to endure through time and still play an important role in the policies and actions of public and private organisations. The network of actors, institutions and material realities emerging over time provides the long-term perspective with some critical mass, while it also explains its disposition to change over time.

Beunen & Barba Lata (2021). What makes long-term perspectives endure? Lessons from Dutch nature conservation. Futures 126

Environmental governance theories: a review

This article synthesizes and compares environmental governance theories. For each theory we outline its main tenets, claims, origin, and supporting literature. We then group the theories into focused versus combinatory frameworks for comparison. The analysis resonates with many types of ecosystems; however, to make it more tangible, we focus on coastal systems. First, we characterize coastal governance challenges and then later link salient research questions arising from these challenges to the theories that may be useful in answering them. Our discussion emphasizes the usefulness of having a diverse theoretical toolbox, and we argue that if governance analysts are more broadly informed about the theories available, they may more easily engage in open-minded interdisciplinary collaboration. The eight theories examined are the following: polycentricity, network governance, multilevel governance, collective action, governmentality (power / knowledge), adaptive governance, interactive governance theory (IGT), and evolutionary governance theory (EGT). Polycentricity and network governance both help examine the links or connections in governance processes. Polycentricity emphasizes structural configurations at a broader level, and network governance highlights agency and information flow within and between individuals or organizations. Collective action theory is helpful for examining community level governance, and helps analyze variables hindering or enabling self-organization and shared resource outcomes. In contrast, multilevel governance helps understand governance integration processes between localities, regions, and states across administrative, policy, or legal dimensions. Governmentality is helpful for understanding the role of discourse, power, knowledge, and narratives in governance, such as who creates them and who becomes governed by them with what effect. Adaptive governance helps analyze the links between context, change, and resilience. IGT helps examine the interdependencies between the systems being governed and the governing systems. EGT is helpful for unpacking how coevolutionary processes shape governance and the options for change.

Partelow, S., A. Schlüter, D. Armitage, M. Bavinck, K. Carlisle, R. Gruby, A.-K. Hornidge, M. Le Tissier, J. Pittman, A. M. Song, L. P. Sousa, N. Văidianu, and K. Van Assche. 2020. Environmental governance theories: a review and application to coastal systems. Ecology and Society 25(4):19.

Evolution of place-based governance in the management of development dilemmas

This paper reflects on the evolution of place-based governance from a long-term (15 year) study of rural development initiatives undertaken in a region of Poland as part of its accession to the European Union. It decomposes the recursive process of institutional learning arising from initiatives for heritage preservation and rural economic development. In the analysis, a typology of unavoidable development dilemmas is elaborated that must be explicitly managed in order to allow place-based governance to effectively harness the cultural value, social context, and developmental needs of certain locales or landscapes. Although creating and sustaining local value remain contingent on broader realities of governance, proactive management of these dilemmas can help prevent many of the usual contestations around goals and identity from becoming intractable in later periods. The proposed approach to enabling place-based governance emphasizes conflict recognition and engagement as important complements to more common prescriptive models of governance.

Feuer, H.N., Van Assche, K., Hernik, J., Czesak, B. & Różycka-Czas, R. (2020) Evolution of place-based governance in the management of development dilemmas: long-term learning from Małopolska, Poland, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2020.1820314

The most marginalized people in Uganda?

Indigenous peoples such as the Batwa in Uganda are predominantly seen as marginalised groups, leaving little room for foregrounding their power, influence and involvement in tourism and development. Inspired by Foucauldian discourse theory and Actor-Network Theory [ANT], we use the concept of relational agency to analyse how the Batwa contribute to conservation and tourism development, and deepen our understanding of agency in the context of the Batwa at the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda). Based on this conceptualisation we analysed the dominant (academic and non-academic) discourses on the Batwa in the light of in-depth ethnographic research to seek for alternative Batwa realities. Whereas scientific, NGO and governmental literature predominantly reduced the Batwa to marginalised, poor and oppressed victims of development, our ethnographic research observed the Batwa as a vibrant community that deploys expertise on forest ecology, tourism entrepreneurship, organisational capacity and political activism. With such insights we discuss the consequences of agency reduction and the ways to take the Batwa’s situational agency into account. Highlighting the multiple realities of Batwa-ness provide a starting point of relating with the Batwa in ways that acknowledge them as agential, rather than only marginalised.

Ampumuza, C., Duineveld, M., René Van der Duim, R. (2020) The most marginalized people in Uganda? Alternative realities of Batwa at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. World Development Perspectives 20:

From coal not to ashes but to what? As Pontes, social memory and the concentration problem

Focusing on the case of As Pontes, Spain, where coal mine production intensified rapidly in the 1970s through to the 1990s, this paper contributes to the literature on resource towns, and on boom and bust communities more generally. Here, mining was contested throughout the boom period, eroding the local economy and reducing social cohesion among residents. The effects of the subsequent bust were buffered by the Spanish welfare state, and by a power plant, which now imports coal, but still employed some locals. Despite As Pontes’ problematic past and present situation, which is marked by relative stability and prosperity, one can still find deep nostalgia and community features usually observed in places where the boom provoked less resistance and the bust was more dramatic. A rigid ‘industrial’ identity started to structure governance post-mining; nostalgia for the ‘good’ times dominated. In the analysis of developments at As Pontes, the concept of ‘concentration problem’ is applied in an attempt to shed light on features of governance in resource towns and difficulties in local ‘reinvention’ mode, and develop the idea further by linking it to an erasure of infrastructures of memory.

Perez-Sindin, X. & Van Assche, K. (2020) From coal not to ashes but to what? as pontes, social memory and the concentration problem. The Extractive Industries and Society.

Rethinking strategy

This paper presents a novel framework for analyzing the formation and effects of strategies in environmental governance. It combines elements of management studies, strategy as practice thinking, social systems theory and evolutionary governance theory. It starts from the notion that governance and its constitutive elements are constantly evolving and that the formation of strategies and the effect strategies produce should be understood as elements of these ongoing dynamics. Strategy is analyzed in its institutional and narrative dimensions. The concept of reality effects is introduced to grasp the various ways in which discursive and material changes can be linked to strategy and to show that the identification of strategies can result from prior intention as well as a posteriori ascription. The observation of reality effects can enhance reality effects, and so does the observation of strategy. Different modes and levels of observation bring in different strategic potentialities: observation of self, of the governance context, and of the external environment. The paper synthesizes these ideas into a framework that conceptualizes strategies as productive fictions that require constant adaptation. They never entirely work out as expected or hoped for, yet these productive fictions are necessary and effective parts of planning and steering efforts.

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Gruezmacher, M., & Duineveld, M. (2020). Rethinking strategy in environmental governanceJournal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 1-14.

Mine housing in the South African coalfields

Historically, many mining companies in South Africa housed their white workforce in towns established and managed by the company and their black workforce in single-sex hostels or compounds. By the early 2000s, most company towns had been ‘normalised’, the mining industry had abolished the compound system and homeownership had become the dominant policy goal. We use evolutionary governance theory and the concepts of social disruption and place attachment to reveal two problems: the path dependency of the migrant labour system and the goal dependency of government policy. To illustrate the effects on the residents of a coal mining town, we identify three housing clusters: renters, homeowners and informal settlers. Using findings from a survey of one South African mining town (Emalahleni), we show how the housing system created by normalisation places undue pressure on municipal services. We argue that by ignoring the continued migration and the likelihood of mine decline or closure government policy is putting homeowners at risk.

Cloete, J., & Marais, L. (2020). Mine housing in the South African coalfields: the unforeseen consequences of post-apartheid policyHousing Studies, 1-19.


The book Evolutionary Governance Theory: an introduction has been translated into Chinese and is now available in the (online) bookstores.

Evolutionary Governance Theory is a novel theoretical framework for analysing the evolution of governance systems. It integrates numerous theoretical sources, including social systems theory, poststructuralism, institutional economics, and introduced various novel concepts that allow for a more refined understanding of the continous co-evolution between different governance elements.

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Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., & Duineveld, M. (2014). Evolutionary governance theory: an introduction. Springer Science & Business Media.

Research methods as bridging devices

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the potential, both analytically and practically, of understanding research methods as bridging devices. Methods can bridge theory and empirics, but it is argued that they can perform several bridging functions: between theory and praxis, between analysis and strategy and between past and future. The focus is on those forms of bridging relevant for understanding and effectuating change in governance, at community level and at the scale of organizations.

The paper develops a perspective on methods as bridging devices. It uses the newly minted methods of governance path and context mapping as a case study. These methods conceptually derive from evolutionary governance theory (EGT) and were developed and tested in Canadian empirical research. The case helps to develop insight in features, forms and limitations of methods as bridging devices in governance research and practice. The authors then use the case to further develop the initial concept of bridging more generally, emphasizing the shifting balance between methods as bridging and creating boundaries.

Both the case study and the theoretical analysis underline the necessary imperfection of any method as bridging device. The authors affirm the potential of method to perform different bridging functions at the same time, while revealing clear tradeoffs in each role. Tradeoffs occur with adapted versions of the method producing new strengths and weaknesses in new contexts. In each of the forms of bridging involved neither side can be reduced to the other, so a gap always remains. It is demonstrated that the practice of bridging through method in governance is greatly helped when methods are flexibly deployed in ongoing processes of bricolage, nesting and modification. Governance enables the continuous production of new framing devices and other methods.

The idea of methods as bridging devices is new, and can assist the development of a broader understanding of the various forms and functions of research methods. Moreover, it helps to discern roles of research methods in the functioning of governance. The context of governance helps to recognize the multi-functionality of research methods, and their transformation in a context of pressured decision-making. Moreover, this approach contributes to the understanding of governance as adumbrated by EGT.

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Gruezmacher, M., Duineveld, M., Deacon, L., Summers, R., Hallstrom, L. & Jones, K. (2019). Research methods as bridging devices: path and context mapping in governanceJournal of Organizational Change Management.

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